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Story Pick: Behind the torment

teka4.jpg

Teka Adams was nine months pregnant when a woman sliced open her abdomen in an attempt to take her baby. After her rescue, she named her daughter Miracle. Photo by Carol Guzy/The Washington Post

Today, the Post ran the incredible closer to a two-part series about Teka Adams, a pregnant woman who was held hostage for days. And, like the first part, the second piece is filled with wince-inducing details that take us far beyond the police reports and interviews. Early on, we are met with this horrifying image: Teka’s captor has two box cutters and two knives.

“She started cutting near Teka’s lower belly, moving upward, using a picking motion to break the skin. When the pain was unbearable, Teka would gesture and Deramous would stop for a few minutes. Sometimes she would dip a cloth in a bowl of ice water and wipe Teka’s stomach. Sometimes she would rewind “This Is It” to a part where Michael Jackson was singing, possibly to mask any sound.”

I thought you might want to know more about the series (I did) and so I asked the reporters, Liza Mundy and Matt Zapotosky, to take us behind the story. Here’s what they had to say:

Theresa: It's easy to see how this could have been a news story and then forgotten. How was the decision made to take a deeper look at what happened to Teka Adams?

Matt: Lynn Medford and Sydney Trent, editors in Style, saw the early pieces in Metro and thought it looked like it would make a great narrative. The problem was we couldn't initially get Teka to talk. Liza did (she can tell you how that came about, it's a great story), and all the rest just sort of fell into place from that.

Liza: I agree with everything Matt said. As for Teka: Right after the event, Teka was (I gather) way too traumatized, understandably, to want to talk about what she had just been through. I started trying to get in touch with her sometime in February, I think it was. I emailed her father--the only contact we had--and the email bounced back with a routine spamblocker message asking me to identify myself and what I wanted. I emailed back but somehow my email got routed to his wife, Teka's stepmother, a lovely person whose account must somehow be attached to his. She replied politely and we emailed a bit about whether Teka might talk; at first Teka was not inclined to do so, but at some point it emerged that I wrote a book about Michelle Obama, and it turned out that the stepmother had read it, and based on that, Teka--who is interested in writing herself, and writes poetry--agreed to meet. After that, we had a lot of interviews but also lunches and general hanging out together, and I got to meet P.J. and Sadie and Miracle and spend time with them. I enjoyed that. It's always an honor to be permitted to tell someone's story.

So I guess you could say the whole thing was enabled by some sort of email glitch that I still don't understand.

Theresa: How long did the reporting take? And what was the most challenging part?

Matt: Several months at least. I can't remember exactly when we started. But I wasn't detailed to it full time -- I still had to cover my beat, which is Prince George's County police. The most challenging part for me was piecing together Veronica's background when very few people were willing to talk about it. On that note, convincing people to really let us into the story -- especially the police -- was a bit of a struggle. I'm still not sure how we did that in every case...I think we just had to get them to see, as we did, the value of sharing Teka's story.

Liza: Yes to all that. I will add that Matt was extremely resourceful in piecing together Deramous' past, using newer reporting tools like Facebook, and old-fashioned tools like shoe leather, leaving notes for people, tracking down court records, getting in touch with people who were mentioned in those records, etc.

Theresa: How long did the writing take? Most challenging part?

Matt: I'll defer to Liza on this one.

Liza: Gosh, it's all a blur now. Maybe a month? Maybe longer? Many drafts. The challenge was how to best tell the story. In addition to the central narrative of Teka's captivity and escape, there was backstory about Teka and her life, and there was also backstory about Veronica Deramous and her history, and backstory about how the two women's paths had crossed, and the challenge was to figure out where and in what order and at what length to go into these various parts of the larger story. Sydney Trent helped a lot with that. And the central narrative was so dramatic -- as is the rescue and the tracking-down of the suspect -- that parts of the story basically wrote themselves.

Theresa: Can you explain the writing process a bit? You two work for different sections of the Post and so how did you come together to find one voice?

Matt: Liza pulled it all together, so there really was no trouble with voice. I just sent her one big feed with all the info I had gathered. And as far as the reporting, we both reported to Sydney Trent, who was incredible, so there also wasn't any problem with going in different directions or stepping on each other's toes in the reporting. I think we stayed on the same page from start to finish. I hope Liza doesn't disagree!

Liza: I agree! Matt sent a smooth and accurate and well-written feed of all his reporting and that was such a help -- I was able to incorporate it in the appropriate places. And then he read over everything and offered useful comments. And Sydney held everything together. I would also say in passing that I find it a pleasure to get to work with other reporters on stories. In general, reporting can be a solitary task at least in terms of the interviewing and tracking down of facts and people, and it's useful to have someone to share impressions or double check things with. We conducted some interviews together. I always learn a lot from other reporters.

Theresa: What has the reaction been? Have you heard from Teka?

Matt: The law enforcement community, so far, has liked the story… Liza could tell you about Teka.

Liza: Teka's reaction was good. She was very interested to read the information on Veronica Deramous -- most of these details about her alleged captor, she did not know. She only knew what Deramous had told her during her captivity. She was fascinated to learn that she had been in the military and about the rest of her work background.

Theresa: Anything else you think the readers might find interesting? Anything you'd have done differently?

Matt: Our original instruction on the story was to show readers how these two lives -- Teka's and Veronica's -- came together, and I think in a lot of ways, we did that. Readers might also like to know that we've been we've been obsessively fact checking the story for weeks to make sure absolutely nothing is wrong, but we've had minor moments of panic as recently as this week. Our sourcing puts the story above any question, though. We've reviewed maybe more than a hundred pages of court records, interviewed Teka extensively, interviewed detectives, patrol officers, responding firefighters and emergency personnel...you name someone involved in this story, and we have talked to them or tried to. And that's not just on Teka's side. We endeavored to interview Veronica in jail, her sister, her son, her parents, her lawyer, and any and all friends we could find dating back to high school and her days in the military. It was truly an exhaustive effort.

Liza: Matt is right. I guess the only thing I'd do differently is make it clearer that the first installment of this story was Part One of a two-part series! Apparently that wasn't quite clear to some readers, and we got some letters from people who were baffled and thought there would be only one installment and that we had left them hanging. I hope their patience is rewarded and their questions are answered with the second installment, today.

By Theresa Vargas  | June 16, 2010; 8:20 AM ET
Categories:  Story Picks  | Tags:  Liza Mundy, Matt Zapotosky, Teka Adams, hostage, preganant  
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Comments

Thanks for the back story on this article. And nice work on such a horrifying story.

Posted by: Vienna8425 | June 16, 2010 10:24 AM | Report abuse

This sound like a life time movie(LMN)some one need to get in touch with that movie station so this will never happen to anyone again. So sad but a good ending.

Posted by: sunday1 | June 17, 2010 12:46 AM | Report abuse

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